My Ten 2011 Predictions in Local and Social

2010 was the year when the next evolution of “local” came of age with the rise of Groupon, mobile applications and geo-localized social networks like Foursquare, SCVGNR, Facebook Places and Gowalla. As I have been saying for four years (already!), all of these came with a very strong “social” component, making social media a game-changer in “local”.

Always a fun exercise, here are my predictions for 2011:

1) The rise of the Social Commercial Graph

I didn’t coin the expression, many people are already talking about this. The idea is, at a basic level, to become the centralized provider of social media presence for small merchants. But it’s also the discovery of connections between merchants and consumers (or even connections between merchants themselves). The theory goes that if you can master and understand those relationship points, you’ll be able to create a lot of value for businesses.

2) The rise of commercial conversations

The openness and egalitarian aspect of a social platform like Twitter creates opportunities for businesses. They can create a presence, start to broadcast information, build a loyal following and monitor what’s being said about them. I’ve found merchant/user conversations so far revolve mostly around customer care issues or favorable mentions. The next evolution is “commercial conversations”, merchants reaching out to consumers in specific situations. Spammers do it in an automated fashion when you mention a keyword. This creates no value for anyone.  The smart way to do it is figuring out when it’s appropriate to contact a consumer (when they’re asking a question or expressing a need) and have a human voice. That’s the space we’re trying to crack with Needium.

3) Facebook will start to realize merchants are excluded from the conversation

This is the corollary to the last point. After operating Needium within the Twitter ecosystem, it’s easy to see that the microblog service from San Francisco is a much better communication tool than Facebook for small merchants. In Facebook, merchants create a presence and need to promote that presence outside of Facebook to build their fan base. They can also hope current fans “mention” them in status updates using the @ functionality. They can also buy Facebook ads. All of this is a very passive way of using Facebook when you compare the richness of communication tools available between friends. I suspect Facebook will realize they have this weakness in 2011 and will eventually offer asynchronous follow for friends and businesses.

4) Mobile as a startup within a company

The rapid evolution of the iPhone, the launch of the iPad, the arrival of a multitude of Android Tablets, the new Windows Phone 7 operating system have caused mobile to become a game changer in many local media companies. All directory publishers I’ve talked to about report better search metrics with their mobile applications (vs. the Web). This is a breakthrough opportunity for them but unfortunately, resources are not yet applied at a sufficient level to win the game. Inspired by what Yelp said at the last BIA/Kelsey conference, I expect media companies to start realizing this is really critical and will create a “startup” environment to allow mobile to thrive within a corporate environment.

5) Consolidation in the Yellow Pages industry and in daily offers

Expect directory publishers consolidation in 2011 as the economy starts picking up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see mergers. The same thing will happen in the daily offers (group buying) space.

6) Local expert is the new social media expert

With “local” views being integrated everywhere (blame mobile!), I expect 2011 to see the arrival of hundreds of new “local” experts. Expect social media experts to slowly migrate to “local”.  But beware of snake oil. Trust people that were writing and thinking about local before local was cool…

7) Social Media ROI

After a few years of experiment and being told that you can’t measure social media return-on-investment (ROI), expect more pressure this year to prove that social media is delivering tangible results.

8 ) Newspapers will be more successful with daily deals than Yellow Pages

This is based on intuition only but I suspect newspaper companies will drive better revenues out of their daily offers initiatives than directory publishers.  The DNA of newspapers ad sales is much closer to the DNA of the group buying ad product: local deals, daily ad product, regular advertiser point of contacts, etc.

9) Facebook will announce their initial public offering (IPO)

As the global economy recovers and stock markets become again a great way to unlock company value, I predict that Facebook going public will be the beginning of the next Internet bubble, the likes we’ve seen in 1996-2001.

10) Cable will have its Napster moment: 2011 will see the emergence of an easy-to-deploy cable-killer combo

We’re getting close to a moment in time when an easy-to-use combo of technology/content/piracy will create a solution good enough to cancel your cable subscription. A good read in Wired on this topic.

11 thoughts on “My Ten 2011 Predictions in Local and Social

  1. I think this is a well-thought out post, with many insightful predictions; some of which may take longer than 2011 to master, but I definitely agree with the general direction.

    In response to Adam Sofineti’s comment, I believe that Yellow Pages & Directory publishers have (at last) an opportunity to influence the online advertising market in a meaningful way through the current focus on the Holy Grail of Local. Nobody knows the local demographic like YP and Directory publishers – that’s undeniable. I also do not believe that any technology player can parachute in and serve local and hyper-local market algorithmically, though I am interested to see who will try. If there is to be a technology to come in and disrupt Local, it will be via Mobile. I say this as many local advertisers only have access to Mobile during the course of their normal business.

    Taking a step back and looking into the local fishbowl, it seems to me that, at last, the Yellow Pages industry has the chance to align its sales force with the opportunity before them. Until now, directory publishers have made a great deal of effort to compete with Search, which hasn’t suited their strengths. Now that the ‘big guys’ of the Internet are focusing on local, they are going to bring the strengths of the local directory back into focus. They are coming into the territory of the directories, not the other way around, theoretically giving the directories home advantage. I think this is significant.

    It’s simple to assume Google will come in and take the Local market, but in all likelihood it won’t play out that way. Even for Google, life is not so simple. They will play a significant role, as they have the fire hose of traffic in the near-term. But I see a second scenario whereby if the strategy is executed correctly, Yellow Pages publishers could make a successful transition into digital marketing and actually succeed in taking back a slice of the advertising pie they recently lost.

    For the time-constrained SMBs that make up the massive local advertising market, there’s nothing like the personal touch. In the same way that the majority of SEM campaigns sold require real people to properly execute and manage them for advertisers. Cracking the local nut is going to take person-to-person contact, at least for the foreseeable future until some disruptive technology comes along. That technology won’t likely be algorithmic search-based, as it’s proving too easy to hijack results from search on broad subject matter, let alone when you get down to information with a local context. If you think you see a lot of spam now, wait until the big money shifts to local. This is where and how trusted brands such as Yellow Pages can win, as I believe the early iterations of Local search by Google and Facebook will not meet consumer expectations.

    To Adam’s point, whether some of the debt-burdened YP & Directory publishers can survive the current economy is up for debate. This may have some impression on the local online advertising market. But I still believe their fate will not impact the very real issue that local advertisers need to be sold to, as they are not parked in front of desktops like the majority of Internet users. I’ve been in local and search for more than 10 years now and for me 2011 will be the year of a lot of technology and advertising companies position and posture themselves. But the pragmatist in me says we already know where Local is going and it won’t be revolution but evolution we see. And evolution takes time. The only ‘new’ concepts in Local advertising are Social Media and Mobile. I have to believe this is where the game-changers will come from. The rest is a digital version of what has been available offline for decades now (Advertising, Coupons, Reputation Management, etc.) and is simply reinventing the wheel.

  2. With the FB launch of Subscribe coming back to this…FB has made some bold moves this year forward in terms of supporting Local businesses.

    Thing is though Seb, think I have to disagree with you and it’s somethig we’ll have to debate at Local Social Summit.

    I’m finding great success in how can SMBs can use Facebook as a communication medium. Yes, it is more difficult that Twitter but with that I’m seeing a longer term value being created and then some really interesting positive ROI numbers.

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